There is a grief-stricken silver lining to COVID-19. It affords us a critical insight to preserve a habitable climate: the insight of rest.
I used to professionally advocate for a WW2 scale climate mobilization. I initiated and managed the SF Bay Area climate emergency declaration campaign; the most successful to date in the United States. I no longer believe in this approach for four reasons: 1. A national economic mobilization may negate the principle of sustainability and justice by not equitably addressing long term resource management amongst existing countries and all of their future generations. 2. The growth dependent economy cannot unlink growth from social and environmental harm. 3. Humanity needs a method to increase its responsiveness to complex threats and avoid the supremacy of focus that climate alarmism promotes. 4. Any national or global effort needs to expand on the principles of a just transition and fundamentally transform the toxic power dynamics between and within nations.
Thus I call for One World 1. Recognizing that humanity’s best survival strategy is a unified one. We need to maximize our species survival fitness within a dual strategy: bring our world together to out-cooperate the world-ending dynamics we’ve set in motion to ensure the maximal just survival of humanity, wildlife and the ecosystems we depend on, and shift the global economy to a secure state of temporary rest until we are truly ready for transition.
While the coronavirus isn’t an extinction-level threat, global warming is. Tragically, COVID-19’s death toll inequitably increases. But the threat it poses pales in comparison to the expected death toll of global warming, which will further aggravate the spread of diseases and all other forms of stress. The World Health Organization estimates 250,000 people will die annually between 2030 and 2050. Just as with the coronavirus, we aren’t expecting to enact a preventative cure–it’s too late for that. But we can address the causes and symptoms of global warming. There is a simple analogy that can guide us to do just that.
Before they die, our cell phones shift into a low-power mode in which they shut down non-essential functions to conserve energy. This is similar to our COVID-19 response. While the economy is in a recession we should update our operating systems and prepare for a comprehensive reboot. Below is a rough sketch.
Finesse the recession to a full transition, globally: It’s time to enact a global green new deal designed to reverse global warming and racial, economic and international inequalities while designing a steady state economy that fits the biological and material capacity of the earth. Initiating and negotiating this highly complex maneuver is One World 1.
Restore a safe climate by sustaining a “(s)low power economy”: Returning to business as usual, overconsuming the earth’s resources, and exploiting people to do it makes no sense. To restore a safe climate we have to sustain what this virus has initiated: shrinking the negative environmental impact of the global economy. Scientists have laid out a phenomenon called Drawdown; it is when the earth pulls out more greenhouse gases than we emit. Researchers have laid out a plan to achieve Drawdown. Every year we allow the earth to achieve Drawdown, we reverse global warming and gain more time to plan. This recession gives us the opportunity to design an economic trajectory that achieves drawdown and reverses global warming.
Provide a generous safety net to take care of people throughout all phases of the transition: Meeting people’s needs and correcting historic inequities is the only moral choice as both corona and climate exacerbate social injustice. The public needs to understand the full scope of the challenges we face and the constraints for success. The deeper we support and orient people, the more complex and dramatic our survival strategies can become.
Invest in R&D: There are numerous unapplied insights and breakthroughs in all of our critical systems, from education to air travel. We have the know-how to identify and treat childhood trauma, and thus design a school-family-society system capable of producing the first generation without any trauma. The first solar powered plane made it across the world. The technology and intelligence for a carbon-neutral and environmentally gentle global transportation system is in view. Airlines should not come back online until they are fully carbon-neutral or environmentally positive. We need to funnel money into evolving industries not bailing them out. We must leverage our new capacities to collaborate across the world to intensively design the new.
Prepare workforce and youth for the next world: There is work to be done. Understanding what it is and how to prepare the workforce will take time. Preparing the workforce will take time. The higher skilled the workforce, the better the outcome. This is a time for intensive training and education.
There is a bias toward automation while inequality is at its highest in history. The robot is the new slave: free labor, mass profits. There is an underlying anti-human attitude in the economy. We are experiencing this as a crisis of meaning; people already feel dehumanized by the accurate perception of being a discardable tool. Yuval Harari has warned of a useless class. If groups of people have no place in an automating economy, what are they to do?
We must design out the soulless aspect of work and the anti-human bias of today’s economy. We must also wrestle with the hard questions posed by the specific trajectories in the future of work. Mobilizing the development and employment of people will have long-lasting benefits and should be done with a long term eye on the future.
Dismantle toxic industry, methods & memes: We are in many ways and on many levels at war with ourselves. Cyber warfare, nuclear conflict, and the intense battles between cultures, values and worldviews create the demand for serious developmental growth and or demise. All the dynamics eroding our health and bringing us to the brink of extinction need to be abandoned and phased out. Some of these dynamics are in our culture, while others are in the methods we employ and rely on. Phasing out industrial pollutants and the political corruption that allows frontline communities and ecosystems to be poisoned is critical to humanity’s long term success. Phasing out all forms of supremacy and subjugation and their underlying delusions is critical. We must abandon the manufacturing and design of cheap products. We must abandon abuse, pollution and waste.
Run scenarios on designs for the next economy and systems: “There is no alternative” is a lie of the existing rulers. There are many possible transition scenarios and post-transition civilization designs. We have the benefit of human wisdom and super computers. We can run simulations, develop new theories, apply critical insights, improve systems that have yet to be applied. We can design systems and societies that solve the problems raised here. We can test experimental designs. Now is the time to organize our society around ideas that enhance our capacity to address our challenges.
Test planet-compatible global society: The purpose of the above phases is to prepare. Meeting the challenge of sustainably and ethically advancing in a finite world is hopefully a one time evolutionary challenge. After the preparation phase we have to grow it, build it, and synchronize the new systems our world will depend on. Whatever direction things head in, they have to be tested, and secured. This will take time. Success will be identified by the absence of negative impacts.
Exit low-power mode: How we design the economic recovery matters. It should represent the insights we’ve gathered along the way and be just. The boom bust cycle doesn’t mimic the design intelligence in nature. It doesn’t go through dynamic phase changes, nor does it voluntarily evolve, adapt or change in a widely responsive fashion.
Enact protocols for continual refinement: However we reformat the world it should be designed to evolve; increase its capacity to learn, incorporate feedback, and be ethically discerning. For this we need to double down on valuing and protecting high quality, accurate information. Contexts can change quickly and when our world is attempting complex maneuvers we need to trust the justification. Identifying and organizing around good information and designing for change is sustainable.
Prove we are 21st century-worthy and celebrate: I recently heard Noam Chomsky ask, “Is our species even viable?” It’s not fun watching our world die. Especially when the evolutionary and developmental challenges are straightforward and can be easily dealt with.
This is all a sketch, a vision, an orientation. One World 1 is about a fundamental reorientation to the permanent viability of our species: slowing down, putting the wars down, collaborating as a world, and discovering far more complex maneuvers. It’s time to design a global society that fits the biological and material constraints of earth and also fits the psychological, cultural, and developmental needs of diverse peoples worldwide.
This essay is an expansion of a shorter essay I originally wrote for twitter.